Greg Dulli, Ed Harcourt
Ed Harcourt is almost the dictionary definition of a "nearly-man". From the release of his debut album in 2001, certain sections of the music press have been hailing him as a spiritual heir to the likes of Tom Waits, Nick Drake and Nick Cave. However, commercially speaking, the man can't get arrested, despite his best efforts.
But the second Harcourt starts performing, it's abundantly clear that there's much more to this man than someone who wants success, but hasn't found it yet. With a masterful control of atmosphere, Harcourt transports us to a cabaret club in the 1930s, clutching his guitar, and letting the core of the songs ebb and flow through his body. Between songs, a man of genuine charm and charisma emerges, and it's hard not to get swept along with it all.
After a brief spell at the piano, reinforcing the "nightclub" sensibility, Harcourt finishes with a theatrical flourish on an old-style microphone. It's tremendously entertaining stuff, but the lack of any stand-out songs, and the suspicion that these songs lack any "real" emotional core gives a few clues as to why Harcourt has failed to reach the upper echelons of popular music.
Greg Dulli, on the other hand, has come to define the term ï¿½maverick.ï¿½ When grunge roamed the earth, Dulli's Afghan Wigs were the black sheep of the family; steadfastly refusing to play the game, they opted for a more singular path, ignoring the commercial zeitgeist to pursue their own dark muse, releasing a couple of stone-cold classic albums along the way. Since they called it quits in 2001, Dulli has continued with the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins (alongside fellow grunge renegade Mark Lanegan), still refusing the march to the beat of anyone's drum but his own.
Tonight is technically a "solo" performance, covering a selection of all his work, accompanied by cello and violin, as well as some minimal guitar and keyboards. In this setting, Dulli immediately takes us on a dark, and emotionally involving journey; these are dark paths, seldom trodden, but Dulli is the perfect guide.
Whilst Harcourt suffered from a lack of that one killer song, Dulli uses his gifts to turn the entire set into one long, drawn-out, heartbroken highlight. It's a rare thing to see, but the selection of songs almost blur into one, as Dulli finds new ways to get under our collective skin and takes us to places we might not normally be comfortable visiting.
It's a wonder how one man can cope with being able to convey this much emotion, but the audience in the Spring and Airbrake seem more than grateful he's decided to share his gift with them.